She’s the Queen of Snapchat taking funny filters to the max, she’s the Empress of evolution moving her brand into the future and she is to baby booties what Beyoncé is to bootylicious. She is PaperKrane Kate.
Partnering up with the Mother of Mini Coopers, as she is known on Instagram, otherwise known as Zara, Kate has made 2016 a year for significant change and development for the business she runs from her Melbourne home. A partnership the pair kept under wraps while they worked on their plans for PaperKrane’s future, much of their operations are still shrouded in secrecy in order to preserve the exclusive magic innate in the brand. Shedding some light on the PK forecast, Kate says, “The intention is to grow and expand the brand so that PKs are available in greater quantities and to a broader customer base, including older children. That’s pretty much all I can say for now…”
It’s not surprising that Kate and Zara feel the need to protect their brand considering the number of would-be “designers” flexing their talents in the art of imitation. Though Kate, while admitting the betrayals that have emerged from “copycat-gate” have left a nasty sting, is remaining philosophical, “I’m at the point where I don’t give them a second thought, because what they do doesn’t affect what I do from here on out,” she says. “What matters is what we are working on, and how well we cater to our loyal customers’ wants and needs. (Which we are working on!)”
On that note, one of the key developments to have been introduced this year is the option of a sole upgrade to the larger PK sizes. “The sole upgrade is something that I have been wanting to do for a while, and it’s mainly come about because my daughter, Wren, (3 and a bit years) has grown out of the largest size, and is also a brutal shoe punisher, able to damage faux suede soles in a single bound/scuff!” says Kate. “So there’s the rubberised option, and also now the suede. Which to date, is the only thing she hasn’t been able to get through! And stay tuned, because as we’ve mentioned in the past, we are working on more exciting upgrades.”
While her loyal clientele await the evolving PK look, a few of them have begun to try their hand at what I am calling the “Pimp my PKs” trend. From the use of t-shirt markers and dye to alter the colours of their booties to investing in puff paint to add functional grips to their littles’ soles, PK personalisation is now a thing. But what does their maker have to say about it? “It’s cool to see pictures of people adding things to their PKs to take part in challenges, or colouring in the black and white prints to make them more personalised,” says Kate. “I definitely think there’s a possibility that we could create a pair that would encourage everyone to reveal their hidden creative talents.”
The PK challenges have added another layer of fun and uniqueness to the PaperKrane brand, from cat joke palooza which turned a normal Friday night into a competitive kitty-fest to PK shelfies which no doubt saw K-Mart sell out of those peg-boards; each challenge ensures a more intense level of involvement and engagement with the PK brand. So which has been Kate’s favourite so far? “I really loved the Street vs Geek crew challenge. That was a massive one, and the pics that came in were phenomenal!” says Kate, before adding some advice for future challenge entries. “If we run a challenge we are definitely looking for something that catches our eye, a great idea, versus a large number of pics posted.”
Citing the Street vs Geek restock as one of her favourites to date, “I love all the crazy bright prints that were chosen for the street side of things,” says Kate, the designer is equally enthusiastic for what is on the menu in the coming months. I got a look at the enticing piles of fabric stacked around Kate’s workroom when I paid a visit to PaperKrane HQ last month, and I’ll admit they more than whetted my appetite. “I think that I am most excited about doing the food theme… ha ha. Nom nom!” laughs Kate. “I know Zara is excited about that, too, and she spent some time recently pulling the fabrics out for that!” Plus, the news all hard-core PK fans have been waiting for… “Of course I’m excited to get stuck into the lace ups,” says Kate, confirming that laces will be making a comeback in 2016. “That’s going to take some time, and they won’t have the suede soles, so will be all made here at PK HQ. I really want to have at least one style available that people haven’t seen before!”
Delving into the nitty gritty of one woman and her trusty sewing machine, who I watch methodically completing Galaxy toe details one after another, I’m intrigued to know more about the PK process. “The shoes are always halfway made before a restock,” reveals Kate. “To the point of being ready for their elastic, details, stamps, and then to be joined. So I always have an accurate stock count before the restock and I always make at least one sample pair up for photos and sneak peeks. I don’t think I would ever put up a restock not knowing how many pairs I would need to cut out and sew. I’d be up shit creek if I did that, lol!”
So how does the designer survive through every restock? With Wren only in daycare a couple of mornings a week, Kate has the constant task of balancing the demands of her growing business with those of her growing girl. Not to mention the fact that she never seems to sleep! So, how does she do it? “How do I get by each month? I have at least 6 hours sleep a night (probably not enough) and I snack on things I shouldn’t (ha ha, whoops). I definitely need to refine my list of processes, but for the past 18 months things have run a lot smoother as I know everything that needs to happen before a restock even goes up online. Things sometimes don’t run as smoothly as I do rely on a few helpers to get everything done each month, and have for a long time,” says Kate, “we’re all mums just trying to make it work and fit in with our lives.”
A huge part of Kate’s life is her husband, Ken. So how does Mr PaperKrane figure into all of this? “Well, I couldn’t really do this without Ken! He’s a massive supporter of me and PaperKrane,” says Kate. “He’s never once said that I shouldn’t be doing this as my full time job. He helps around the house, (a lot) and also is great with Wren. We have a really lucky situation where he also runs his business from home, so there is usually some help if I need it. He snips threads, keeps me company, sends me links to podcasts he thinks might be helpful to me as a businesswoman, and generally cuts me a lot of slack for all the things I don’t get done around the house!”
In-house, the next restock currently being prepped, is PK Halloween. An occasion for fun treats and maybe a few tricks up Kate’s sleeve, the Halloween line up will see Harry and Co returning for Potter-More and those zombified Frankenboots rebooted, dismembered and ready for PK action. “It’s looking pretty cool, and kawaii (cute)!” says Kate. “I’m really happy with the prints this year, they’re not so macabre… and I was also seeing a lot of the same prints (I’ve used in the past) popping up on other handmade shoes around Instagram. So I knew that, as always, the goal was to STAND OUT from the rest!”
Stand out she does and in an industry governed by social media prestige, Kate knows only too well the value and importance of marketing herself and her brand through every available channel. Her snaps on Snapchat have become anticipated daily viewing for her followers hungry to learn more about the face behind PaperKrane. “I do think it is really important for people to show who they are, and what their business is about, why they do things and to make those connections,” says Kate. “I guess I’m lucky having been at this for over four years now, I’ve met so many awesome people. Customers that have become friends and now a fab community of people who all love them some PKs! I don’t think you can do that without people knowing who you are, and trusting you with their orders. I mean, there have been some horror stories on Instagram of businesses disappearing overnight with people’s money (many times!) and I like to think, if you make the effort to get to know the people who support your biz, and vice versa that it only helps strengthen that trust that you need to have to hand over your money for something. I usually don’t shop with ‘faceless’ businesses. And there are so many of those around.”
Snapchat has had to take a slight backseat to the business of late, but Kate assures us her face will be back to fill our smart phone screens in all its filtered glory. “I feel of late that it’s harder to find the time to keep up with all the social media, but that’s just because there’s so much work needing to be done behind the scenes. I’m sure I’ll be back in full force in no time!” Some of those behind the scenes goings-on pertain to some very exciting collaborations, “We have got some Young Blood Apparel PKs coming soon, along with some TFPR & Co. New York and Wild Child ones,” reveals Kate, though she admits that the general collaborative front is being kept relatively low key as she and Zara prepare the next phase of the business. “For the future, we have a number of ideas and designers that we will be approaching to work on exclusive PK prints,” she says, hinting at the treats in store.
Noting Kate’s accompaniment of choice while she sews as being a medley of YouTube music videos, it occurs to me to find out whom in the music world Kate would most love to design PKs for or inspired by. “Hmmm, well, this is kind of embarrassing, but I used to really love the Spice Girls when I was a teenager (ok and into my early 20s, lol) but if I could make five Spice Girl pairs I think that would be pretty cool.” On the subject of custom creations, Kate also confesses a bit of a celebrity crush on a certain Hollywood A-lister, “if Leonardo DiCaprio ever has a baby with one of his model girlfriends, I’d love to be able to send him a pair and I would make them (Baz Luhrmann’s) Romeo and Juliet inspired ones…” she says.
The PaperKrane #pkcreator hashtag has lent itself to encouraging Kate’s customers to thinking up custom designs themselves, in the hopes of having their print and colour combinations manifested into unique booties for their own mini sartorialists. Kate notes however that it’s not always feasible to keep up with it as she juggles so many balls in the air. “I think there’ve been a few coincidences where I’ve made a pair that is kind of like an idea someone had! Or perhaps shown some fabric that’s like an idea someone had. Maybe I need to check that more often!”
Receiving notifications of anywhere between 5 and 20 Instagram tags a day, countless #pkfeet #PaperKrane_play and more hashtags, as well as Facebook notifications; it is a job in itself to stay on top of it, something Kate accomplishes out of sincere respect and love for the loyal clientele that make up the PK community. “Sometimes people just tag in the comments, and I miss a lot of those as the notification is pushed down and out of sight by other notifications. Even the #PaperKrane hashtag is missed as I just don’t have the time to check that regularly at the moment. Best way for me to see your picture is to be public and tag me on the photo itself,” says Kate.
I had the opportunity to meet some of the PK community at the August Swagger Child Market event in Melbourne, which saw Kate offer some lucky Swagger Mums a delicious PK treat creating a limited collection of I Scream PKs just for the occasion. Following her sTEALthy surprise at the preceding Swagger, the designer loves to keep her fans on their toes, with the occasional additional style sneaking in to a restock. Asked whether she’ll reveal any more sneaky PK fun on the horizon, Kate asserts, “Never say never! It is harder at the mo to manage all the extra sewing, but with a few cool surprises coming to PaperKrane… I’m sure nobody will be disappointed.”
A brand that has become a staple in our household, to the point where my son’s face crumples into hysterical tears if I attempt to put anything other than PKs on his feet, PaperKrane fans are often familiar with disappointment after an unsuccessful restock. It is that exclusive nature of the PK brand, however, together with an original and expert product, which is a huge part of its marketability and success. “This I believe is what drives the kind of craze that you see at a PK restock,” says Kate. “Even if there’s two or three hundred pairs available, that’s still a limited number, and regularly we will get upwards of 700 going for those pairs at each restock. Missing out has to unfortunately happen for some, and hopefully with the work we are doing, that gap will be closed sooner rather than later!”
Ending on a random note (in keeping with Kate’s penchant for surprises) and knowing that the designer is as big a fan of Netflix show Orange is the New Black as I am, I had to ask: If you were a prison inmate and had one hour of internet access, what would you Google? “Ha ha, I would probably Google… myself and my case. Best exercises for small spaces. How to win friends and influence others, lol. What materials can be turned into a shiv. How to protect myself in the shower. And… I’d try to online shop for some adult prison PKs, and if they weren’t available I’d send an angry email demanding a custom pair be made.”
Following the fun and fabulous themed restocks we have come to expect of PaperKrane, I devised some restock-related questions for Kate as a fun finish to our interview…
4. What is Wren dressing up as this Halloween? Hmm. I’m still thinking about that. I may do a few different costumes if I have time! Everyone keeps saying I should dress her up as Matilda (Apparently she looks like the girl from the movie?!)
- Cowgirl or Indian? Native American Indian. In the most respectful way. I love the way they respect the land, animals, and nature.
- Favourite Wild West-theme movie? I’m not really a fan of that genre, but I did enjoy 3:10 to Yuma.
- What would the Corleison clan tartan look like? Green and navy. I have no idea why, I just like those two colours.
- Real life Pioneer Woman inspiration? Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman probably doesn’t count, lol. (I never watched that, it just sprung to mind when you said pioneer!) Kate Sheppard, New Zealand’s most famous suffragette, who championed women’s rights to vote making New Zealand the first country to grant universal suffrage!
- Is your ideal bloke more Dirty Harry or Paul Bunyan? Paul Bunyan. For sure! Beard, flanno, nuff said! 😉
Street v Geek
- Best and worst subjects at school? Loved Art, and science. (Biology and chemistry the most) Hated all math subjects! (but was not bad at it.)
- Most street-worthy thing you ever did? Not sure if I’m answering this right but I used to skateboard when I was at uni. ?!
- Rebel or good girl? I was a pretty good girl. Our skirts were on or just above our knees anyway. Some of the others would roll the tops of theirs!
- Favourite Breaking Bad quote? I am the danger.
- Ideal magical power? I think I’d love the ability to create things, or finish off PKs without the need for a sewing machine, ha ha.
- Harry or Ron? Or neither/someone else? Neither… or maybe a cross of both? Fred and George are more my style!
- Rainy day activity? Sew… same thing I love to do every day.
- Scariest ever weather-related experience? We were camping by the beach on the east coast of Korea and a storm came in and almost took our tent down, we were up and packed and down the beach into the public toilets as soon as it got light enough to see. When I was at primary school our classroom got hit by a mini tornado… it lifted the building a little. So maybe that was scarier?!
- New Zealand, South Korea and Melbourne; which country’s climate do you prefer the most? South Korea… for Spring and summer, and New Zealand for winter and autumn. Sorry Melbourne, you suck climate wise!
- Complete this quote: “If you jump in muddy puddles…” You must always wear your PK boots… lol
Wild v Tame
- Wild or tame? A bit of both. I’m the crazy introvert…
- Favourite animals to visit at the zoo? Wren likes the gorillas or elephants, and I like the giraffes.
- Your spirit animal? Hmm, a wolf or a bear about to go into hibernation. 😛